Picking a lawyer is like picking a watermelon: most watermelons look the same, most sound similar, but until you cut into one you never know if you have a good one. Not that you should cut into a lawyer. We tend not to like it when that happens.
What I mean is that until you actually spend some time talking with a lawyer you will not be able to determine if they are the right lawyer for your case. The issue is how do you get past the appearance and sound and to the heart.
The internet is a good tool for many reasons, but it can be a hinderance as well, especially when you are looking for something. Most lawyers have websites and online reviews, and that information can be helpful. But it is important to remember that whoever provided the review did not have your case. It may be similar, but in the end every case is unique.
Additionally, we often receive referrals from a family member, other lawyers, former clients, and even from the other side of a case from the past (those do make us feel good). But even if the person making the referral has the best intentions, the specifics of your case may not be the best fit for the lawyer you are considering. The only way to tell if the lawyer is a good fit for your case is to talk to them. There are five main points you should consider in picking a lawyer. To save some time, and hopefully some frustration, consider the following:
- Field of Practice: Being a lawyer in 2020 is much different than when I started in 1995. Like almost every other job, the practice of law is mostly specialized. Some lawyers still have a general practice, but more and more lawyers are focusing on an area of the law. Some of that focus is due to the lawyer’s preference, some is due to caseload, but it is mostly due to the changes in the law and how much more complicated it has become. For me, specializing makes me a better lawyer. I am better able to address the unique issues that each client presents. Chances are a lawyer that specializes in family law will be best suited to help with that type of case.
- Experience: Having experience can be both positive and negative. Usually experience means the lawyer has been doing this for some time and has (hopefully) learned what to do and what not to do. At the same time, practicing law the same way over time can cause a lawyer to be complacent and not recognize there may be a better way to build a mouse trap. Conversely, a lawyer with less experience may be able and energetic but knowing the theory of the law is not the same thing as putting that theory into practice. When considering which lawyer best suits your case, consider not only the lawyer’s age and experience, but whether they have kept up with changes in the law, recent court opinions, and the advances in technology.
- Philosophy: A lawyer’s attitude toward what they do is just as important as how they do it. Practicing law requires motivation, and an appreciation for the practice. If the lawyer has that appreciation, then they are more likely to do a good job representing you. Dealing with a family law case is stressful for the client, but it is also stressful for the lawyer. Practicing in this area can be very demanding, and I personally believe it is one of the harder areas because it requires attention to several different issues (children, property, support, etc.), and flexibility to the changes that inevitably come with each case. When considering a lawyer, make sure she/he wants to do what they are doing. Don’t worry; you should be able to tell if they like their job just by talking to them.
- Practice: How the sausage is made is just as important as the sausage itself. It is important to know the administrative side of how the lawyer functions. Does the lawyer communicate best by email, phone or in person? Does that work with your preferences? What is the timeline the lawyer thinks she/he will be able to work on your case? Does that work with your schedule? Who does the lawyer utilize for staff, and how will they be involved in your case? There is no right way to answer any of these questions because, again, it comes down to your case and your preference. But when you first speak to the lawyer, the answers to these questions are just as important as the facts of your case. Remember: process, process, process.
- Personality: I saved personality for last because it is the most important. And, contrary to what you may have heard, lawyers do have personalities! Granted, the personality may seem negative, or hard to see, but usually a negative view of a lawyer stems from the circumstances in which you had contact with the lawyer. I say usually because some lawyers can be challenging. Being able to relate to the client is sometimes difficult for lawyers, and in turn it can be difficult for clients. Some personalities do not mesh, and you should be able to tell if that is the case early in your first contact with the lawyer. If it appears you and the lawyer will clash, then it is best to find someone else to handle your case. Remember, you will be dealing with the lawyer for a considerable amount of time, and most of that time will be stressful. Having someone you can relate to, communicate with, and understand will be the most important part of your choice.
Choosing your lawyer is a very personal issue, and it should be. For family law cases this may be the most personal thing you do in your life. Making sure the lawyer you choose to help you through that process is essential. The best suggestions I can make are these:
- Do your homework and research the lawyer as much as you can.
- Meet with the lawyer and discuss your case, and their ideas about your case.
If after reading this you feel like contacting me, even to tell me I am wrong, please do.
Tony A. Potter is a Member of Ward Potter LLC, where he uses his experiences in general civil, trial, and appellate practice to represent clients. Tony received his Juris Doctorate from Washburn School of Law in 1994 and has been continually licensed to practice law in Kansas since 1995. Tony is a member of the Kansas Bar Association, the Wichita Bar Association, the Northwest Kansas Bar Association, and Chair of the Wichita Bar Association Family Law Committee. His commitment to his clients was also recognized in 2018 when he was acknowledged as a “AV” attorney, peer rated for high professional achievement by Martindale-Hubbell, and he enjoys a 10.0 rating from the Avvo attorney website. Contact Tony
Ward Potter LLC is a family law firm located in Wichita, Kansas. Ward Potter handles divorce, child custody, parenting time, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, visitation by grandparents, and paternity cases. The firm also provides litigation alternatives such as collaborative family law, mediation and arbitration. The mission of Ward Potter LLC is to guide clients through changes in their families with empathy, excellence and expertise. We strive to calm chaos and focus on the resolution, not the battle.